Thursday 31 January 2013

THE PERFECT AMBIGUITY. From Cortez to Kubrick.

How do we know that things are real?

I’m asking that existential question after reading about Manti Te'o's avatar girlfriend. Answer: If the love is real, the girl is, too? Then what about CORTEZ, a restaurant that epitomizes the tiny portion trend in LA. The menu sounds unreal. A saffron-tinged cauliflower, a tiny mound of greens moistened with sesame paste, a rabbit morsel, and other food tokens. The moment of truth arrives together with the bill, when you say to yourself: If it costs that much, it must be real. 

The same reasoning applies to art. Last year I saw an exhibition of Evan Penny’s sculptures at the AGO in Toronto. Penny creates life-like silicone heads. On a video you can watch him making pin pricks into the plastic skin of his sculptures and insert real facial hair. Question: How real are these heads? if I buy one, do I need to take him to the barber for a trim?

Sometimes you have to create your own reality. Architects Thorsen and Dykers, partners in the firm that is redesigning Times Square, furnished an apartment with items from a prop supplier, USING THEM FOR THEIR REAL PURPOSE (NYer 21 Jan). I feel all warm and fuzzy. Those poor neglected prop-things finally got a real furniture life.

Meanwhile two pink seats, props from Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, have been promoted to museum pieces and are presently on view at LACMA. Doesn’t sound like much of a promotion? Well, at least they are allowed to be three-dimensional.  

But perhaps it’s better to stick with ambiguity. As Stanley Kubrick put it (Exhibition Catalogue, p 22), a really perfect ambiguity is something which moves the audience in the general direction you want them to be moving. Okay, now I get it. That’s what David Klawans had in mind when he made the movie ARGO. The story is certainly the all-time champion of real/unreal puzzlement. It’s based on the (REAL)1979 rescue of American diplomats in Teheran, who stayed at the (REAL) Canadian embassy posing as (UNREAL) Canadian film makers. It was made into a film (does that count as REAL or UNREAL?) financed by Smokehouse Pictures because the story is so unreal, YOU CAN’T BELIEVE IT WOULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN. I’m quoting the LA Times here, which every day publishes reports of murder, violence, and corruption I can't believe would actually happen.

Will they be made into a movie eventually? Is that how I can tell they are true?

Sunday 27 January 2013

MINING THE NEW YORKER. From Anna Sophia Robb to Tom Wolfe.
For my last post I mined the LA Times. Today I dig into The New Yorker. Here are two nuggets of gold.
First, the article on a new TV series set in the eighties, THE CARRIE DIARIES. Carrie is played by Anna Sophia Robb. Her wardrobe isn’t authentic, she explains. It’s of ASPIRATIONAL AUTHENTICITY. Thank you, thank you! You have given me new hope, Anna. I despair of finding my authentic self, but I’m pretty sure I can achieve ASPIRATIONAL AUTHENTICITY, just as I have achieved aspirational bestseller status. The concept will be a comfort to many. For example,
  • Equal opportunity employers who just can't get it right . Now they can be ASPIRATIONAL EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYERS. In future their rejection letters will read: “Dear sir/madam. We aspired to hiring you, but have now decided in favour of someone with a lighter complexion, who blends in better with our company profile.”
  • Speaking of profile, I have some words of wisdom for ASPIRATIONAL ENGLISH-SPEAKERS. Keep your language non-specific. That's the trend here in North America. That’s why we talk of cops PROFILING people rather than DISPLAYING PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS or,  God forbid, prejudice, which sounds so definitive. You want to leave room for interpretation. Let others decide what your words mean.
  • Don’t call an ambulance an ambulance. Too much information. Call it an EMERGENCY VEHICLE, and allow others to figure out what you’re talking about -- a fire engine, an ambulance, or a tow truck? In this day and age we want to keep our options open.
  •  That’s why a coffee whitener is called a NON-DAIRY PRODUCT. YOU figure out what that means. It’s a food product, okay? That’s all you need to know.
  • Same goes for what used to be called advertising. Much too specific. Let’s call it PRODUCT PLACEMENT and leave it to others to determine whether it’s just a prop on stage or something that  "if you were watching the show you’d go: I’d wear that," as Robb puts it so charmingly.
Nugget Two: OUTSOURCE YOURSELF, a wildly informative article by Patricia Marx. I’m amazed at all the things you no longer need to do yourself, provided you have the money to pay a lackey. Oh sorry, I meant virtual personal assistant.  Patricia Marx commissioned one in Bangalore to write a bit on outsourcing. She got 1300 words for less than 100 Dollars. As she points out, at that rate, WAR AND PEACE would cost about 40,000 Dollars. Now there’s a job for me. Please, Tom Wolfe, hire me! I’ll write your next novel for 30,000 Dollars. Let’s make it a sequel to BACK TO BLOOD and call it BACK TO BLOODY WRITING.

Thursday 24 January 2013

LA TIMES INSPIRED THOUGHTS. From Stealth films to Sasquatch.

Every morning I search the LA Times for news that will stimulate my brain cells. On Jan 20 I got lucky, twice.

First, the story of Randy Moore, who filmed ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW at Disney World without authorization and without anyone even realizing he was making a movie. That got me thinking about other potential stealth movies.
  • Those mute couples in restaurants, for example – maybe they are shoe fetishists filming the exciting things going on under the table, Nike having it on with Sketchers, and so forth.
  • Or that sales rep at Best Buy who ignored me – maybe he is filming tech-challenged people lingering in front of new gadgets. His ambition is to post a collage of screwed-up eyes, open mouths, and twitching fingers on and go viral.
  • Or that homeless guy in the park, reeking of piss and mixed spirits. Maybe that’s just camouflage scent, and he’s actually filming people making a beeline around him. His body works like an invisible electric fence. On film, you see shins approaching and veering off. He’s waiting to capture someone who keeps going, walking right over him. Great stuff for You Tube if the camera doesn’t get trampled in the process.

Second, the news about the White House website WE THE PEOPLE, where you can post petitions.
At first you needed 5000 signatures to get Washington’s attention. Then they raised the minimum to 25,000. Now they’ve upped the ante to 100,000. I’ve missed my chance! I could have petitioned them to make my novels required reading. It would have been easy to get 5000 signatures, as I discovered when I reopened my Facebook account and rapidly garnered hundreds of would-be friends before I shut it down again in a panic.
Anyway, the new threshold means that the petition for the US to build a DEATH STAR (34,435 signatures) will go nowhere, but Texas’ petition for SECESSION (125,746) might just make it. As for the people who want 19 September declared TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY (1021) or those who want the SASQUATCH recognized (1012)—forget it. And revoking the tax-exempt status of the CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY – 276 signatures? You’ll have to work a lot harder, infidels!

Sunday 20 January 2013



Fifteen years ago, when I first saw the park on the bluffs overlooking the beach, it was picture postcard perfect, or would have been if I could have clicked and dragged the homeless out of the frame. The lawns were a mess of blankets, knapsacks, shopping carts, and prone bodies sleeping off whatever. Although I’ll say this: Santa Monica had some of the best-looking bums around. They all looked like extras on a gritty movie set. Not sure how the city got rid of them, probably by moving the soup kitchen inland. But now the neighbours are complaining again. The lawns are once more cluttered with mats, weights, ropes, sweat bands, resistance cords, and prone bodies stretching. Palisades Park has turned into an outdoor gym. And just like ten years ago: good-looking bums all around. Also pecs, quads, etc. But the neighbours feel it’s too much of a good thing. The City threatens to pass legislation and make people pay for flattening the grass.

 Legislation has already worked wonders for the beach. Miles and miles of pristine sand. No dogs allowed. No smokers allowed. I guess that explains the hovering helicopters. I thought they were after illegal Mexicans, but I see now they are patrolling for illegal smokers. I keep my cell pointed in case I witness police brutality, cops taking down a smoker and searching him for illegal cigs, or if it’s Paris Hilton (remember Paris Hilton?), searching her purse for an illegal dog.

But those laws are only a beginning. To make the Santa Monica beach truly beautiful, I suggest additional regulations:
  • Persons over 25 must carry evidence that they passed a screen test within the last year. Persons over 50 must wear burkas or stay off-sand.
  • Weight regulations will be enforced. Check the official height/weight chart for your sex and age. Ungainly people will be fined. Obese bodies will be towed.
At some point, the city must have passed legislation to ensure that the sand is kept smooth at all times. No shells or stones measuring more than one inch in diameter permitted. It’s not posted, but nature is in compliance.

They really should follow up on that and require the Santa Monica Mountains to be clearly visible at all times. No fog/smog, please, and no mist. And sunsets must be vibrant. Hazy auras will be dispersed. Then we’ll finally have a beach living up to Hollywood standards.

I mean, who wants to live a natural life when a legislated existence can be so beautiful?

Thursday 17 January 2013

TO BE OR NOT TO BE. It’s no longer a monologue.

It’s a chorus, of doctors, lawyers, and family members, at least it is for Hassan Rasouli, a man in a coma. The quality of his life is zero, for which Sunnybrook Hospital bills Canada Health $ 2000/day. The doctors see no sense in keeping Rasouli on life support, but his family wants him to live. So the matter is in the courts now, and the judges will decide who decides.

Doctors can now determine whether you are in a total coma or still firing a few neutrons. Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario has developed a method to pinpoint your state. He asks you to envisage a tennis game and observes the areas lighting up in your brain. Okay, that would work for me. Here is my code, Dr. Owen. One ball: I want to be disconnected. Two balls: Keep me going. I’m pretty sure I can beat you at tennis.

But maybe it’s better to leave the decision to a third party.

For example, I could let my blog followers decide when I should be taken off life support. But wait. Hold it. There are 28 of them at present. What if they are evenly split? I need at least one more follower. So come on! Anyone out there who wants to join now and kill me off later?

Alternatively I could draw up a living will directing my sons to hire me out as a crash dummy. Think of it: Money for them, head-banging excitement for me! Way more excitement than playing MRI tennis with Dr. Owen, right?

Or: I could direct my sons to apply on my behalf for a job in the Department of Revenue and Taxation. Judging by their glacial speed answering my queries, they must have comatose people on staff already. And why not? They blend in nicely with the corporate culture.

Or: Maybe my sons can talk Hollywood into a sequel to THE SESSIONS, in which a polio victim experiences sex with a therapist. How about EXTREME SESSIONS, with a comatose… Okay, I hear you retching. Fine. I’m dropping the idea, but the fact is that the comatose are under-represented in public. There is a huge gap in the services available to them. If you ask me, they don’t need advocates. They need event organizers. Don’t you think they’d love COMAparties or COMAfests or COMAthons for charity?

I’m asking you: Where is private enterprise when we need it?

Saturday 12 January 2013

HOW TO KEEP YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS. Good advice from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

                                    JAN 12 

Twelve days into 2013, and I’ve broken all my resolutions. What can I say? I set myself up for failure. I made impossible commitments. Losing weight? Not losing my temper? Puh-leez! That’s so totally unrealistic. Like Assad embracing democracy or Lindsay Lohan joining AAA. We all know that’s not going to happen in 2013. But next year will be different, for me at least. I’ll do like Kanye West. His New Year’s resolution, according to life, is to be AS NICE AS POSSIBLE to the press. Notice the little qualifier AS POSSIBLE? Way to go, Kanye. You are a genius with words. If I had thought of that phrase, there would have been no need now for a MEA CULPA blog post. I’ve broken my diet resolution twice already, but so what? I’ve pigged out AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Ditto with blowing up into my husband’s face: I screamed AS QUIETLY AS POSSIBLE.

Come to think of it, there are other ways of guaranteeing the success of my New Year’s resolutions in the future:

  •  Add A BEST BEFORE DATE. I’ll make it 12 January. After that I’m off the hook. My resolutions have gone stale and must be thrown out. TADA: I’m free to pig out and explode into people’s faces. Or,
  • I could build in an ESCAPE CLAUSE and make my resolutions subject to a cooling-off period before fully committing to them. 26 December would be a suitable date to lock in. Surely I can hang in the remaining five days, when post-Christmas torpor sets in and I am feeling bloated anyway from office parties and compulsory family reunions.  And here’s another idea.
  • Clever people sign pre-nups, don’t they? Why not draft a PRE-RESO AGREEMENT? That would involve two steps. First you choose realistic goals, such as: I will exercise my eyeballs for 30 seconds every day. Then you put in a penalty clause, for example: a penny for every second of eyeball exercise missed. At the end of the year, you add up your sins, drop $ 2.50 or whatever into the Salvation Army kettle, and success! You’ve followed your PRE-RESO agreement to the letter.
  • Then there is the Kim Kardashian method, which is in a class of its own. Her resolution according to life To CONTINUE WITH LAST YEAR’S resolution because she BROKE IT A LITTLE BIT. You must admit that’s a totally amazing idea: THE PERENNIAL NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION.
Congratulations, Kim. You’ve invented the Mayan Calendar of New Year’s Resolutions. Make one good list, carve it in stone, and recycle. You’ll never have to say sorry again.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

TRAVELS IN AMERICA. Toto,  I’ve a feeling we are not in Canada anymore.

GAS. No enroute service right on the highway. You have to exit to fill up. Gas is still cheap, from 2.71/gallon in Arizona to 3.59 in California.  Food on the gas station strip is still terrible. That’s why I carry the essentials. For me, that’s bread, cheese, wine, a thermos of real coffee, and a tin of home baked cookies.

MOTELS. Either I’m getting deafer or the AC/heating fans are quieter and the fridges less shuddering. Breakfast is still prepackaged and consists of what is known in the trade as food products (as opposed to real food) and served with a hot brown liquid they insist on calling coffee.  I stay away from it.

TV. I no longer own a TV, so here was my chance to find out what I’m missing. Nada. Same old prevalence of trash. I think I’ll go on living without newsy news, cute animal stories, talent-less people singing and dancing and the rest of the depressing fare.

ART SURPRISE. Marfa (near Pecos in Texas), an artists’ colony. One Marfan has a sly sense of humour. There is a “Prada Store” by the side of the road, well, actually an installation by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. It's a concrete building with plate glass store front. Inside: nicely arranged stiletto heeled shoes and Prada bags, but no one to serve you of course. There is also a fish-like blimp tethered near a farm house. No bill board advertising blimp rides, so I naturally assumed it was another installation. Turns out it's an Aerostat Radar site. Who knew the US Air Force had such artistic potential? 

HIKES. fantastic, but you  need pathfinder skills to find trail heads. My favourite hike (well marked) is out of Tucson: Bear Canyon to 7 Falls. You see Saguaro and other cacti, boulders, a picturesque water fall, and have the thrill (for someone like me without a sense of balance) of crossing a creek seven times, hopping stones or else waterlogging your boots.